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Death is inevitable, but it doesn't have to be confusing. Today, we're answering some of the internet's favorite questions about dying. Morbid? Maybe. Interesting? Definitely.

What does cremation actually involve? Why are funerals so expensive? Does the soul have a measurable weight?

Host Justin Dodd breaks down some common myths and misconceptions about the thing that unites us all... death.

If you’ve spent any amount of time on the  internet, you may be under the impression that corpses can pass wind.

And while that  seems like something your 14-year-old nephew might share for the shock value without verifying  his sources, it’s actually true. The bacteria in the intestinal tract responsible for flatulence  don’t die off just because the body is no longer in operation.

And because our sphincters have  relaxed post-mortem, morticians may sometimes have to work with a literally farting corpse. Even just  repositioning a body can force out trapped gas. Autopsies: funnier than you’d think.

But there are plenty of actual misconceptions about death, unrelated to posthumous toots,  that you have been misled about, and we’re going to exhume them all today. It’s next on this  edition of Misconceptions. Let’s get started.

Hi, I’m Justin Dodd, and like all of you,  I’m here for a good time, not a long time. One day, I will pass away, hopefully  without a ton of regrets or a true crime podcast focused on my mysterious final hours. Death is  just one of those absolutes in life, like taxes.

Unless you’re a billionaire, in which case you’re  probably doing everything you can to avoid both of those nuisances. Everyone watching this will  some day experience the inevitable transition from being a functioning and binge-watching  member of polite society to … well, whatever comes next (which, as I’ve already mentioned,  might include some posthumous flatulence.) We’re here to dispel some misconceptions, but we  can’t promise you’ll be reassured about anything. In fact, you’ll probably be a little freaked out.

Especially the cremation part. Fair warning. It’s one of those often-repeated factoids  that gets passed around.

They—whoever they are—say that your fingernails and even  your hair continue to grow after your demise. Nope. Sorry.

You will not be needing a manicure  during your dirt nap. While some argue that it’s technically possible for nails and hair to grow  a teeny, tiny bit after death because skin cells don’t need as much oxygen as, say, your  brain, you’re not going to sprout claws or a Jason Momoa-esque mane. Nails  need glucose to grow.

Without that glucose, you’re in no need of clippers. This myth is likely rooted in the fact that, after death, the skin begins to tighten and shrink  due to dehydration. That change can cause nails to appear to grow.

Facial stubble can also seem  to stick out more, but it’s because the skin is drying out, not because follicles are sprouting. But don’t worry. If your nails are looking a little brittle or your beard  is looking a little bristly, a good funeral director will take care of that.

I also want to mention a couple of cool nail facts. Nails on your dominant hand tend to grow  a little faster than on your non-dominant hand, and toenails tend to grow more slowly overall. Huh.

But again, this only applies to the living. Hopefully when it’s your time to go, it won’t be  due to a bear mauling, a murder hornet attack, or anything that involves you seeing the  inside of yourself before you expire. Some people think the best way to kick it is to go  in your sleep.

It sounds really comforting, actually. “He went peacefully in his  sleep.” So relaxing. Like dying at a spa. But while you can certainly depart the land of the  living while sleeping, it’s not always peaceful.

Just because you hear about a person passing on  while in bed doesn’t mean that’s exactly what happened. If the cause of death was something the  family of the deceased wishes to keep private,   “peacefully expiring” might be a euphemism for  “choked to death practicing for a hot dog eating contest.” In actual cases of nocturnal death  without an external factor like carbon monoxide poisoning, a person might have had  heart or cardiovascular disease. While a heart arrhythmia or brain aneurysm may  prompt a fairly painless death while dozing, there are other causes, and they’re a bit more grisly.

It’s possible a person suffering from a heart attack or other catastrophic body failure  will wake up before dying, giving them a few terrifying moments of clarity and physical  discomfort before heading to parts unknown. Health officials would likely have some idea whether  a person experienced these unpeaceful moments: sheets may be folded up around the deceased  or otherwise disturbed, indicating distress. That’s not to say a tranquil passing is always  an illusion.

If the person looks peaceful, they very well could have died peacefully. But  don’t count on it happening to you. Sorry.

We’ve all been there—hanging out with the guys, wandering aimlessly around town, stumbling  across a bloated corpse while Richard Dreyfuss narrates our story. As you’re standing around the  unidentified corpse, as one does, you might stop to consider whether being close to a dead body  could be harmful. What if they carry diseases?

Fleas? Fungus? Some people believe just being  near a body is an automatic cause for antibiotics.

Not true. The International Committee of  the Red Cross has said that dead bodies are, quote, a “negligible health risk.” That doesn’t  mean zero—it’s theoretically possible for someone like an aid worker who is directly moving  or otherwise handling the body to contract hepatitis or tuberculosis if they’re not taking  precautions, but only for a few days after the body expires, at most. Any longer and you’re  not likely to contract anything.

That’s true even if the body carries a rather pungent  odor, as dead bodies tend to do. I’m told. The World Health Organization concurs, saying  that bodies “…only pose a substantial risk to health in a few special cases, such as  deaths from cholera or haemorrhagic fevers.”  And the safety experts at the Occupational  Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, also have an opinion, saying that: “There is no direct risk of contagion or infectious disease from being near human  remains for those who are not directly involved in recovery or other efforts  that require handling the remains…Viruses associated with human remains (e.g., hepatitis B  and C, HIV, various bacteria, etc.) do not pose a risk to someone walking nearby, nor do they  cause significant environmental contamination.”  So, walking by or possibly poking a dead  body—no issue.

Well, no medical issue. What are you doing with that stick? Cut that out.

Handling a dead body? No issue if you do it carefully. What you really want to avoid is  leaving a dead body near a source of drinking water, as leaking feces can contaminate  the supply and potentially sicken people.

According to OSHA, the biggest  concern when handling a dead body may actually be injuring your back: “Having more than one person involved in lifting the human remains will help to  reduce the potential for injury. Following appropriate lifting techniques  will also help to protect people, as will the use of mechanical lifts  or other devices when available.”  I can’t tell you the number of mob guys I  know who have messed up their back lifting improperly. Remember—lift with your legs.

Cremation is an appealing option for those who  are afraid of feeling claustrophobic for all of eternity. If you’re like me, you assumed that the  process involved placing the body into a furnace and heating it up until it’s a pile of powdery  soot. Let’s just say it’s a good thing you’re dead when you’re cremated, because the reality involves  a bit more smashing than you might prefer.

Cremation leaves residual bone  fragments that need to be mechanically pulverized. Before that step, the remains  look less like powder and more like gravel. And because we know you’re wondering—no, it’s not  recommended that anyone with a medical device or implants be cremated without the foreign  objects being removed prior to the cremation.

Something like breast implants might even  cause environmental harm when burned. Saying goodbye to the dearly departed can sometimes mean saying goodbye to your vacation  fund. According to the party animals at the National Funeral Directors Association,  the average cost of a farewell ceremony is over $7000.

But celebrating a life  doesn’t have to mean taking out a small loan. Cremating a body is significantly less  expensive than embalming and burying one, and it saves you big money on caskets, which  average around $2400 and can go for up to $10,000. Why pay used car prices for a metal  box that can’t even go anywhere?

And while you can opt for a big and potentially  expensive bash at a funeral home, some states allow you to transport the body and obtain a death  certificate yourself. Instead of using the funeral home’s facilities, you can opt for visitation  or a viewing at a private residence or possibly even a place of worship—though I do recommend  getting permission from the venue in advance. Some people even decide to make a loved one’s  departure a festive event by holding a barbeque, though we wouldn’t recommend trying to  save any money on cremation in the process.

Bottom line? You can honor the recently-passed  without plunging into debt. You just need some creative thinking—and possibly a midsized sedan.

When we think of hospice care, we generally  associate it with end-of-life arrangements and making someone who will never  rebound comfortable before they pass. Some people like to use the term palliative care  to lessen the stress associated with the term. But hospice is not always synonymous with the end  of life.

Patients are candidates for hospice when their illness is incurable, not necessarily  imminently fatal. And while some hospice programs may require a diagnosis expecting  the patient to not live beyond six months, that doesn’t always mean they won’t. In fact,  thanks to specialized care, hospice patients may wind up living longer than if they were receiving  other kinds of care.

It’s actually even possible to flunk out of hospice because a physician  no longer believes a person’s chance of dying is sufficiently high enough to keep them there. Now, I’m not telling you hospice is a promising development. In many cases, it’s not.

But  it’s not a guaranteed one-way trip, either. Even when you imagine the worst about hospice,  consider this. This specialized care—which can be administered at home, not just at treatment  centers—also places a focus on supporting loved ones and offering tools to help them cope with  end-of-life issues.

It’s as much for the living as the possibly-soon-to-be departed. But I also  need to tell you that decisions about hospice or any other kind of medical care should be made  by you in concert with medical professionals—not someone on YouTube, even if their content is  highly engaging educational content delivered with signature irreverence. I’d run the  whole funeral-at-home idea by someone, too, while you’re at it.

Misconception: 35-Year-Olds There is no question that advances in medicine have saved people from diseases and other ailments  that would have wrecked them centuries ago. But we might get a little cocky, at times, about how  smart we modern humans are. Sometimes we chuckle about those poor people in the Middle Ages whose  “average life span” topped out in the thirties.

Forty? You were practically Bob Barker. But here’s the secret behind those short life expectancies of the olden days: They were based  on averages and skewed by tragedy.

According to a 2018 BBC article by Amanda Ruggeri, our concept of  “average life expectancies” in the past is colored by high childhood mortality rates. Imagine you  had two siblings: one died as a 1-year-old and one at the age of 70. You’d get an average  sibling life expectancy of 35.

When you hit your 34th birthday, though, you probably  wouldn’t feel like you were on death’s door. If you apply the same averaging method to a larger  population and get the same mean age of death, it doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone  in that population was dropping dead at 35. A 1994 study of ancient Greek and Roman men found  that people mentioned in the Oxford Classical Dictionary who were born before 100 BCE lived to  a median age of 72 years.

That’s not far off from the 75 years of modern American males. Another study of people born between 475 and 625 CE—specifically, their teeth—found that it wasn’t  unusual to live into one’s seventies. The human body has long been capable of aging normally.

The problem was all the battles and terrible medical care, not premature “old age.” There are some notable asterisks to this. In the past, poorer people tended to have  legitimately shorter life spans due to wear and tear, thanks to hard labor. So did women,  who faced untreatable pregnancy complications that men didn’t have to deal with.

But in terms of the  aging process itself—with all things being equal, bodies of old-timey people held up relatively  well. As Ruggeri says, “Particularly if you were an infant, a woman of childbearing years or  a hard labourer, you’d be far better off choosing to live in year 2018 than 18. But that still  doesn’t mean our life span is actually getting significantly longer as a species.” Of all the misunderstandings surrounding death, there’s one that  stands out as the most mysterious: that a human body will lose a precise amount  of weight at the exact moment of expiration—a total of 21 grams.

Some people believe it’s the  weight of the soul leaving its physical host to go on to live an ethereal existence elsewhere. The idea came from a doctor named Duncan MacDougall. In the early 20th century he  convinced six terminally ill patients, four of whom were suffering from  tuberculosis, to rest—and eventually expire—on a bed that was arranged on some scales.

He  measured weight loss in the time leading up to death and then looked for a dramatic  jump in weight loss at the moment of death. But of the six patients, only the first one lost  21 grams. Well, actually three-fourths of an ounce because MacDougall didn’t use the metric  system.

Without getting totally bogged down in the details, suffice to say that there’s evidence  that it was more like 24 grams than 21 grams. So what of the other five subjects? According to  MacDougall’s report, one wasn’t useful because   “the scales were not finely adjusted and there was  a good deal of interference by people opposed to our work.” Another died before the beam could  be adjusted, so their data was also of no use.

The others lost varying amounts of weight. The findings caused quite a stir, with scientists arguing that things like sweat, bodily fluids,  and other excretions made precise measurements of the body after death difficult if not impossible. But MacDougall swore he accounted for variables.

Today it’s universally agreed that the  sample size was too small and the results WAY too inconsistent to draw any conclusions. Critics have offered up a number of possible explanations for MacDougall’s results,  from faulty measurements to outright fraud. For his part, MacDougall did caution against  making too much of his supposed results, writing   “I am aware that a large number of experiments  would require to be made before the matter can be proven beyond any possibility of error, but if  further and sufficient experimentation proves that there is a loss of substance occurring at death  and not accounted for by known channels of loss, the establishment of such a truth can  not fail to be of the utmost importance.” To date, no such proof has been found.

I  guess the weight of a soul departing the body is still yet to be determined. Thanks for watching Misconceptions. If you’d like us to cover a topic in a  future installment of Misconceptions, let us know in the comments.

And don’t put it  off. You never know when it might be your time.